Swahili manuscripts workshop
Our guest blogger this week is Angelica Baschiera of the Centre of African Studies who recently led a workshop on Swahili manuscripts held in the SOAS Archives.
As part of this year’s SOAS Summer School ‘Understanding Africa’ organised by the Centre of African studies and convened by Dr Seraphin Kamdem, a workshop was dedicated to the SOAS Swahili manuscripts collection on 21 July 2015. Ms Angelica Baschiera, Manager of the Centre of African Studies and former Research Assistant of the SOAS Swahili manuscripts project, delivered the session with the support of Mr Lance Martin, one of the archivists in SOAS Library.
The workshop gave an overview of the history of the seven Swahili manuscript collections housed in the SOAS archives by looking at the biographies of the seven collectors, namely Rev William Taylor, Alice Werner, William Hichens, Jan Knappert, Wilfred Howell Whiteley, J.W.T. Allen and Yahya Ali Omar.
Students were also given an overview of the Swahili Manuscripts On-line Catalogue, created between 2002 and 2004 as part of the Leverhulme funded project to catalogue the SOAS Swahili manuscripts in detail.
During the workshop, students were able to view a dozen manuscripts kindly provided for display by SOAS Archives, which included some of the most important Swahili manuscripts. For instance two Islamic religious poems: Hamziyya (MS 53823), Al-Inkishafi (MS 47770); the secular poems of the mythical hero Fumo Liyongo collected by Alice Werner (MS 47795, MS 210012, MS 210015); the historical document ‘The Mombasa Chronicle’ (MS 373394). The display provided an overview of the diverse material of the collections ranging from Swahili Islamic poetry and literature, oral literature, secular literature and historical documents of the East Africa coast.
The feedback from the students was extremely positive as they found the workshop very interesting and they were very pleased to learn about the richness of the SOAS Archives collections. One of the clear outcomes from this Swahili workshop is the importance of access to primary source material and their research value to scholars, and we hope to deliver similar sessions in the future.